PASSENGER groups have given a mixed reaction to a new report calling for high-speed trains connecting the North-East to London in less than two hours.

Ministers were due to consider the report by the Commission for Integrated Transport this week. It urges the Government to start planning to transform Britain's struggling rail network.

The East Coast main line, which links the region with London, is among the routes it identifies as ripe for improvement.

The commission, a Government-funded body advising on transport, claims a network of 200mph lines could slash journey times, providing up to 220 trains a day, with a seating capacity 50pc higher than on conventional inter-city trains.

If the proposals are implemented, a journey from Newcastle to London by train would take just two hours.

Peter Wood, spokesman for pressure group Rail Future North-East, welcomed the proposals as "an excellent idea".

He said: "It clearly will be more sensible if we can get the rail journey times down. The next major investment should be this new south/north rail link.

"In about ten years time the existing rail network will be clogged up. This needs to be introduced to ensure that people can continue travelling as they want to."

But Brian Milnes, chairman of Transport 2000 Tees Valley, said the Government's priority should be to improve existing lines.

"It would be a huge amount of money to spend and it would be necessary to see that there would be real benefits.

"For a lot less money you could put in more of the current highest speed lines of 125mph. In a small island like Great Britain cutting journey times won't make much difference."

Prof David Begg, commission chairman, said: "2015 is a key juncture for us in terms of our capacity limit. But, given the long lead times, the planning needs to start now."

He added: "Other European countries planned their high-speed lines in the Seventies and Eighties.

"Because of spare capacity on the UK network at that time, high-speed lines could not be justified here.

"However, we are now running out of capacity, which has had an adverse affect on rail performance, and we have run out of time."